Alumnus Tom Hayden Reflects on 10 Years of Experience

Alumnus Tom Hayden studied Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media (now at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences over 10 years ago. Today, he’s using the knowledge that he gained from influential and experienced professors to guide his career, which currently involves co-founding a startup while under the title of Entrepreneur in Residence at Northwestern University.

Hayden recalled his decision to choose Telecommunications as his major, “I definitely knew I wanted to do something in the information science field, which these days everyone calls ‘data science’ – something not quite computer science but also not quite business school. The telecom program fell right into that space for me – it was a great mixture of policy, technical courses, and information science.”

He credits his professors for making the curriculum interesting, especially late professors Ron Choura, Tom Muth and Barry Litman as well as his independent study with current Media and Information Department Chair and professor Johannes Bauer.

“At the time, Professor Choura was working as a professor and also for the state telecommunications regulatory agency,” said Hayden. “He would bring some really fascinating stories to class about the machinations of AT&T and the state telecommunications industry. On a particularly nice day, he took us outside into downtown East Lansing and spent some time pointing out all of the regulatory code violations in an alleyway where there was a line of telephone poles and discussing the policy implications of electrical vs telecommunications regulation.”

Hayden commended the professors for sharing their professional experiences in the classroom, educating their students about the best approaches and encouraging their success in the field.

“In my personal academic experience, it is very challenging to take what you're teaching in the classroom (usually theory) and bring it out into the real world,” said Hayden. “Looking back, I thought the faculty at (the College of Communication Arts and Sciences) did a phenomenal job at bringing the technical theory of telecommunications policy and business and bringing it to life with stories from experience.”

After graduating from Michigan State University in 2006, Hayden went on to complete a Masters of Information Science at the University of Michigan. He then worked for Facebook as an engineer for the ads integrity team.

“I worked closely with analysts in their Austin, Texas office on classifying fraud and ads policy violations,” he said. “For instance, fraudsters will steal credit cards and use them to buy ads for affiliate sites or shady ad networks. My team owned everything that happened after a user clicked ‘Report this ad’ – including machine learning, working with human analysts, and building tooling to stop the bad guys. I was at Facebook for their 2012 IPO (Initial Public Offering), which was a pretty crazy time!”

From Facebook, he moved to GrubHub where Hayden said he “wore multiple hats,” but he primarily worked on maintaining data systems “to support the organization so that we could become a very data-driven business.”

Now, Hayden is back at one of his Alma Maters, Northwestern, working in a tech incubator space called “The Garage.”

“I'm one of four EIR's (Entrepreneurs in Residence) who have this cool opportunity to mentor new student startup groups (called residents) and work towards guiding them in the right direction and/or helping them pivot their startup ideas,” Hayden explained.

He discussed the progression of technology and the equipment that is now available to students, “One thing that is definitely different from when I was in school is the variety of hardware related projects student startups are doing today. 10 years ago, we were all working on software-based startups. Today, there is a much greater diversity in types of innovation happening. It's really cool to see drones, internet-of-things, and mobile stuff that is coming from student creativity these days.”

His own startup, called Blueprint, “pulls in data from all over the internet: filings, news stories, blogs and filters it into stories and push notifications about companies,” said Hayden.